This Saturday saw Liverpool lose to a composed and sturdy Aston Villa side. It also saw some fairly dirty play, notably from Villa defenders Philippe Senderos and Alan Hutton. While there is a place in the game for rough play and ‘gamesmanship’, there is no room in the modern game for some of the play that we saw. Specifically, Senderos’ thuggish tackle on Mario Balotelli early in the game would have been a yellow at least if he had the ball and the match official had spotted it. Funny, though, that something is missing from the screen for most of the video below.
The ball. Balotelli wasn’t near the ball, nor even in the play. Philippe Coutinho wasn’t even looking at Balotelli when Senderos took him down with a kick to the shins. Honestly, for a calculated and completely unnecessary tackle on a player like this, a red card is entirely warranted. That would have changed the game entirely. Unfortunately, the match official was watching the game, as he should have been. That’s the problem with officials. They are human and can’t see everything.
One proposed method to deal with errors, or things that have been missed, is the recently discussed challenge system. Sepp Blatter recently came out and stated that this system would be tested at next year’s U-20 World Cup. The justified complaints with this system have, of course, been brought forth. The system could slow the play down and ruin momentum on the pitch. What would be done to prevent frivolous challenging? How exactly would it be implemented and what calls could be challenged? For those of you that would bring up that a that the FA could give the player a ban from play for a few matches, I’m sorry but that doesn’t matter. How does that help the team that was actually effected by the dirty play? Looking at Villa’s schedule, banning Senderos could actually hurt Liverpool, as it would weaken Villa who will go on to play some of their rivals in the next few games. That’s the problem with retrospective bans. It doesn’t help the team that got hurt.
I’m proposing a different system, however. Adding a fifth match official, or a team of officials, that sit in a room with a full field feed of the game would be effective in catching things that have been missed. A fifth official system that is similar to this is already used in a UEFA Champions League matches and full feed video systems are already available in most professional soccer stadiums, since many coaches use the video to analyze the game afterward. If the officials viewing the feed spot anything that needs addressing, they can radio the head official on the pitch, give him the lowdown and decide amongst themselves whether to make the call or not. This method doesn’t ruin the flow of the match while still adding accuracy to the calls the officials on the pitch are making. This system can be used to prevent off-the-ball tackles like the one above, or actions like the Suarez-Ivanovic bite that the official missed, and punish them in real time. The system can also be used to analyze penalty shouts or tackles without getting the way of the game too much. Like it or not, technology is becoming a part of the game we love. The challenge before us now is how to benefit from this technology while also avoiding the negatives. This system is one of those that will help the beautiful game grow without making it unrecognizable.